Welp, they’ve done it again. The creative team who assured us that being a girl was a state of mind rather than a state of body brought that same chipper progressivism to their silly romance episode, and they did not disappoint.
ClassicaLoid may be first-and-foremost a wacky comedy about the importance of community and the transformative power of music, but it’s also proven itself adept at quietly challenging cultural norms about gender and sexuality. Guess it’s true you should never judge a book by its cover—or a series by its goofy premise.
The misleadingly named episode “Love, And You Shall Die” follows my favorite temperamental idols, Tchaiko and Bąda, who have been fighting so much that their producer (the great J.S. Bach) fires them, dumping them in front of Kanae’s boarding house. Frustrated and hurt (by partner and producer alike), Tchaiko unleashes the Muzik of Swan Lake, trapping the ClassicaLoids—along with Kanae, Sousuke, and a trio of their classmates—in a closed world where the chances of falling in love are “70 percent higher” than the real world. And the price for falling in love, they’re told, is death.
Shenanigans, of course, ensue, as the closed world subjects our cast to a series of “love-inducing” scenarios, from bunny-girl outfits to rickety suspension bridges to Boys Being Nice To Puppies In The Rain (the HORROR!). It’s mostly an excuse for the creative team to riff on anime romance tropes, and maybe poke a little fun at any hardcore ‘shippers in the audience, as the criteria for “pairing off” is pretty much just “their eyes met and they felt a connection for a second.”
The entire adventure has a farcical Midsummer Night’s Dream feel to it: the sense that when they say “love” they really mean “lust,” and that passion can be pretty darn fickle and fleeting at times. It’s a fun, strange, surprisingly sweet little episode, and with the possible exception of Tchaiko and Bąda (who mend their relationship through honest communication and recognizing each other as equals, which goes a long way in preventing this from being a mean-spirited “queer as absurdism” story), none of the “couples” are meant to be canon or taken seriously.
So why am I writing about That One Comedic Shiptease Episode? Because I went into it expecting a string of typical boy/girl pairings, and what does ClassicaLoid give me instead? One poly relationship, two queer couples, and two hetero couples (and even one of those is debatable since, as previously noted, Liszt is trans-coded). And just like that, what could have been an enjoyable but unremarkable parody becomes a delightfully inclusive and subtly subversive take on the rom-com romp.
Throughout the episode, ClassicaLoid performs a careful balancing act, toeing the line between acknowledging cultural norms while also refusing to uphold them. Kanae and Sousuke, the two modern-day teenage members of the cast, often act as mouthpieces for societal assumptions, and this episode is no exception. After Mozart and his fan squad fall in love, Kanae voices her surprise that a “couple” can be “three-to-one,” to which Liszt simply informs her that “love takes many forms.” Boom. That’s it. No lengthy Very Special Episode monologues or characters freaking out about how “weird” or “different” it is. Just a matter-of-fact statement, and we move on.
This kind of casual subversion keeps happening in the margins of the story. Bąda assumes the world is trying to hook her up with either Chopin or Schubert, only to have the two men literally ride off into the sunset. Sousuke dashes back into the mansion, convinced he’s the “only one” who can end up with (and therefore “save”) Bąda—an assumption that both Liszt and Bąda soundly reject, and a storyline that ends with him falling off a cliff while Bąda and Tchaiko FLY AWAY IN A MAGIC SWAN BOAT.
“A couple is born,” Tchaiko declares, and that couple has nothing to do with the boy who fancied himself the romantic hero. This is emphatically not Sousuke’s story, and ClassicaLoid not only recognizes that, it even punishes him (lightly and comically—he’s not a bad kid, just a foolish one) for insisting that it is.
The effect of all this is to create a story that both knows it’s rejecting assumptions while also arguing that those assumptions shouldn’t exist in the first place. Some of its characters may think all love stories need to be Boy-Meets-Girl, but ClassicaLoid doesn’t give any credence to this idea.
A lot of queer romances (especially in anime) are fond of including a shocked “But we’re both BOYS!”-type line, suggesting it’s a deviation from the norm. It’s representation, sure, but the kind that still considers queer relationships “the other.” ClassicaLoid avoids this, not only allowing Chopin and Schubert’s spontaneous pairing to exist comfortably side-by-side with Beethoven and Kanae’s, but for Tchaiko and Bąda’s relationship to form the emotional heart of the story. Through inclusion, even silly shipteasing inclusion, it normalizes, telling its audience that all of these potential romances are equally valid, and we shouldn’t be surprised by the variety of pairings anymore than the cast should.
This isn’t to say that there isn’t a place for those “But we’re both GIRLS!”-type stories, mind you. It’s an overused cliché of a line, but it has its roots in cultural norms and heterosexual assumptions present in much of contemporary society (Japan and the U.S. included), and it’s important that there are stories out there that directly address those very real issues.
But not every story wants or even needs to focus on queer romance, or on romance at all. Some stories aren’t interested in canonical romance. Some stories want to focus on friendships, or just shiptease a bit, or write a silly episode where its cast gets trapped in a Rom-Com Hell Mansion. Some stories even want to have a hetero romance at their center. And that’s fine! Adorable, even! (I mean, have you seen My Love Story or Snow White with the Red Hair? ADORABLE.)
The problem is that, in the current anime environment, there are basically two categories: “Stories Specifically About Queer Folks” and “Everything Hetero All The Time Always.” Look no further than the popular shounen action titles of recent decades, which rarely focus on romance but usually contain a few romantic subplots, and almost exclusively hetero ones (and the handful of queer characters are frequently villains or “comical” stereotypes).
Stories that center on queer relationships, like Yurikuma Arashi and Yuri!!! on ICE, are wonderful and vital, and I dearly hope we get more of them. But we need our other stories to step up their games, too. Inclusion doesn’t mean “Carve out your genre hole and stay there.” It means integrating. It means remembering that queer folks exist everywhere, both in our own stories and in others’, and that just because you aren’t writing The Next Great Gay Romance doesn’t mean your series should be wall-to-wall cishet characters, either.
In a perfect world, what ClassicaLoid did with this episode wouldn’t be worth praising or talking about. In the same way passing the Bechdel Test should be a bare minimum when writing interactions between female characters, achieving the “Swan Lake Standard” should be a bare minimum when it comes to queer representation and inclusion in fiction. Of course your goofy “everyone falls in love” episode should be more than a series of single boys swooning over single girls! That’s just common sense, right?
And yet I still found myself surprised and delighted by this episode, and realizing how rare it is to see this kind of casual, matter-of-fact representation in anime (and most fiction, really, although that’s been improving in recent years). Other series could stand to take a page out of ClassicaLoid‘s cheerfully inclusive playbook, remembering that queer people aren’t a “niche,” and our stories shouldn’t be, either.